Secondary infections can cause deadly complication for hospital patients. So imagine the importance of a new antibacterial fabric that could kill infectious bacteria within 10 minutes.
Antibacterial fabrics do not allow nasty disease-causing bacteria, like Staphylococcus, to stick to and grow on their surface – creating an infection-free environment.
The discovery could significantly reduce the risk of deadly hospital-acquired infections and revolutionise the way the medical industry deals with infection control.
The idea is now much closer to reality, thanks to RMIT nano-biotechnology researchers.
Associate Professor Vipul Bansal who leads RMIT’s NanoBiotechnology Research Laboratory team, says fabrics with the built-in ability to fight bacteria could relegate hospital-acquired infections to the sidelines.
“There is potential for special bedding, linens and surgical aprons on which bugs and bacteria do not grow, so we can maintain an infection-free environment in our healthcare settings,” he says.
“We may also have dressings and Band-Aids that can kill bacteria in the wound, resulting in faster healing. These will all have a major impact on the cost of the healthcare system.”
Bansal says the new antibacterial fabric will have important environmental and clinical applications.
The next generation of smart textiles will be free from bacteria and odour and will have a range of potential applications, from putting an end to smelly socks to sporting gear and uniforms.
For the past year, Bansal and his team have been working with CSIRO scientists on the project. They found that organic materials with semi-conductor properties can have superior antibacterial effects over metal salts of silver.
“It has been known for 100 years that silver is anti-bacterial,” Bansal says.
“Silver metal, when it comes into contact with body fluids, releases silver ions and these ions are actually toxic and have antimicrobial and antibacterial properties.”
Instead of using silver metal nanoparticles, Bansal and his team have developed a new material called silver-TCNQ, which releases silver ions very slowly for a long-term antibacterial effect.
In another project, the NanoBiotechnology Research Laboratory team is working with nano-particles of different sizes, shapes, compositions and surface coatings to test their ability to destroy bacteria. A nano-particle is between one and 100 nanometres (1 nm is 1,000,000 times smaller than a millimetre).
“The holy grail is to engineer the nano- particles so they become highly active against infectious bacteria, but they do not kill human cells,” Bansal says.
“Traditionally, silver nano-particles are more toxic than gold nano-particles, but our research has shown that silver can be made very safe for biomedical applications by controlling the surface chemistry of nano- particles.”
Bansal says the surface of the nano-particle is critically important because it is what first comes into contact with bacteria or human cells.
Meanwhile, RMIT has joined the world’s first interdisciplinary national wound research centre, the Wound Management Innovation Cooperative Research Centre.
Chronic wounds – which can take years to heal or never heal at all – cost the health system $3 billion each year and cause great emotional, physical and financial stress to more than 430,000 Australians.
RMIT’s initial research project with the centre, led by Professor Franz Fuss and Associate Professor Olga Troynikov, will design, develop and test prototype pressure-mapping insoles with bio-acoustic feedback for the management of diabetic foot ulcers and venous leg ulcers.
Story: Elisabeth Taric
Photo: Carla Gottgens
This story was first published in RMIT's Making Connections magazine.